Under the Radar is Highsnobiety’s weekly celebration of upcoming talent. Each week, we’re spotlighting a underground brand that’s bringing something new to the worlds of streetwear and fashion.
NOUNION (pronounced “no union”), is a menswear brand that launched mid-way through 2017. The name is essentially a paradox, as the brand is actually a tight-knit design collective based in London. Using denim, corduroy, leather, flannel and more, NOUNION’s designs defy convention, somehow bridging the style codes of ’80s South Bronx with cactus prints and cowboy boots.
The label has two seasons under its belt. Across the board, the garments reject classification, resist trends, and as a result, allows menswear to grow in creative and unexpected ways.
Take, for example, NOUNION’s jackets. The denim is manufactured in Japan out of premium Kaihara fabrics, then frayed and assembled in California, where the length is extended toward the floor like a trench coat (as seen below), or cut vertically down the back and stitched with a different color for FW18. The outcome is an overarching aesthetic that can’t be summed up with a trendy buzzword, which is exactly the point.
Ken, the brand’s lead designer (who prefers to remain more or less anonymous), runs the label with his brother, and has plenty of experience to draw from for his far-reaching design influences, “I grew up in Africa and am mentally well-traveled in terms of my cultural orientation” he says. “I’ve got families in America, the Caribbean, Africa, and in Europe and I want to put emphasis on showcasing the popularity of urban culture around the world”.
A quick look at the current fashion climate (ironic clothes compounded with logos), and it’s clear that NOUNION is simply reacting to the zeitgeist around them. People don’t want to be put in a box and their personal style should reflect this. “We live in a millennial generation right now” says Ken, “and I feel like we’re so boxed in terms of society narrating what we should like. We need to see more communities of people picking, choosing and growing their own reality and their own groups”.
It would be fair to say that, on the runway at least, the silhouette for 2018 is egregiously oversized (see: Balenciaga). In contrast, NOUNION’s cuts are more close-fitted on top, with trousers that collapse architecturally around the legs. The effect of each outfit changes entirely when viewed from the front, the side, or the back, thanks to the contrast stitching, vertically-split outerwear and reassembled flannel shirts.
FW17 was a litmus test for NOUNION, and by focusing on building their relationship with buyers and retailers, it landed an exclusive collection for Selfridges. The collection was partially inspired by 80 Blocks From Tiffany’s, a 1979 documentary that follows the lives of gangs living in the impoverished South Bronx and highlights the street styles that have since become commercialized around the world.
“The reality of it all was they were just surviving”, says Ken about the film. “They were just a bunch of kids and through their anger and strife, they were able to evoke all of the things that we take advantage of in terms of streetwear and fashion and music. That’s where everything came from, in terms of how we convey and perceive fashion now.”
For the FW18 season, NOUNION continued to mix various styles and materials in a cohesive way that speaks to the culturally-aware 21st-century customer. The language is one of surprises and unexpected twists: formal black blazers with a contrast houndstooth pattern under the pocket and graphic sweaters that are layered with a single green sleeve.
“They’re all a representation of NOUNION as being a reconstruction of the norm” says Ken, reflecting on FW18. “We put a lot of emphasis on a grown class of individuals who work on constructing their own identity. Anyone can actually pick and choose what they can identify with, as opposed to having something being pushed onto you to determine what you like.”
NOUNION’s vision is one of irreverence, adaptability and movement, and the styles presented reflect a world where distinctions and divides continue to blur for the better.
The brand’s FW17 capsule is long sold out, but NOUNION’s FW18 collection kicks off with a T-shirt capsule, which drops exclusively with their new webstore launch in June.